Writer, Editor, Parent...

A thought on book reviewing

Posted: November 3rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | Tags: , , , , , , | No Comments »

I finally finished writing a book review that I had started cogitating on back in August. Sad, but true.

The main problem I had was how to write about the story without writing a spoiler. That’s usually one of the main concerns with writing reviews of any kind: how do you say what a great/awful story it was if you can’t actually say what the story was?

It took me this long to figure out how to write this one, possibly because the story affected me so much. The book is really moving and relevant to the Caribbean, but the conclusion is so harsh that you can’t help but give a *gulp* of terror when you read it. In sitting to write the review this morning, I decided to take a look at some statistics related to the plot and see if I couldn’t use them as a way into the analysis. Anyway, a few hours later… I finished. Three months to write 800 words. Sad, but true.


A sexist headline, an incomplete story

Posted: October 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Monday's headline emphasised the make of the vehicle.

This week a car ran over two police officers in Freeport, Trinidad, killing one on the spot and putting one in hospital where she remains in critical condition. The reports indicate that a woman was driving in traffic at a road construction site and ran over the officers while they were conducting traffic around the construction.

It’s a tragic story however you read it. But two things made me very annoyed with its coverage. The first thing was the fact that it took a letter from a reader to point out that there is inadequate signage at that site, making it difficult for anyone to negotiate the detour. Yesterday’s Newsday ran the letter by one S Mohan, which reads, in part,

“I passed there on Sunday evening, there were no basic safety measures put in place, no indications that there were roadworks taking place, no signs, no lights, arrows, no police directing traffic, nothing, just some traffic cones placed directly in front of and around the area and police inside it, all of a sudden you have to merge from the right to the left lane, cars on the right don’t know and on the left is no different until you are almost at the work site.

“I myself almost got hit, and right after almost hit another vehicle while I was attempting to merge to the left lane….”

None of this was reported in the main story a few pages before. Instead the story focussed on how overworked police officers are and how ill-trained. Surely the lack of signage is relevant?

The second thing was the fact that of the three papers initially reporting the story on Monday, October 18, 2010, only one paper put the sex of the driver in the headline. By the next day, all the papers were using the word “woman” or “female”; the Newsday front page picture even used it in the caption of the dead officer’s sobbing girlfriend.

By Tuesday it wasn't the Lexus that was important anymore.

How is it relevant that the driver was a woman? Would we have put in the headline, “Male driver runs over police officers”? This plays into the stereotype that women are bad drivers. We should do better.


What you don’t read in the baby books

Posted: October 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Two women I know are embarking on first-time motherhood and it got me thinking: what are some of the things I wish I knew when I was about to have a child?

Maybe the number one thing was that some of those old wives’ tales are true. Every time I look at my very round belly I think, “Why didn’t I band my belly like my big sister told me to?” The short answer, of course, is that I thought that idea was rubbish. Muscle springs back once the baby’s out, doesn’t it? (Uh, no, it don’t.) The truth is unless you’re into some kind of regular exercise with an intense ab workout component, you’re going to end up with at the very least a pooch, or in the worst case, a pot belly. Band it. It won’t kill you.

Breast feeding is not over rated. Do it for as long as you can. It’s the best thing for the baby, it’s cheaper than formula, it’s less work and more sanitary and it’s definitely better for the environment. Breast feeding also helps with your post-partum tummy. (See above.)

Relax. Motherhood is hard, hard, hard. Make sure you take time for yourself and get some sleep. Don’t make your job or husband a priority right now. They’ll keep. The baby needs a lot of attention and he or she will get it, but you won’t unless you make yourself a priority.

You’ll miss stuff in The World while you’re getting used to being a mother. Even when the kids get big, it might happen. Don’t worry about it too much; The World will still be there when you are able to and interested in going to see what it’s up to.

Love your baby. Trust me, this is harder than it sounds sometimes….

Get support. Your mom, in-laws, friends etc will all be lining up to help you. Don’t be proud, and don’t let their alternate ideas on parenting put you off accepting their help. Gently but firmly let them know what you prefer, but by all means let them come and help. It makes life a million times easier.

Babies are expensive. But the money always comes.

What are some of the things you experienced parents out there learned about that you wish you’d known when you were a first-timer?


The right thing to say

Posted: September 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Column, Editorial | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment »

From Corbis images

I got really annoyed today by someone’s foolish, outta timin’ comment. It wasn’t just the comment, which was mildly offensive and directed at me, but that the person chose to deliver it in front of a room full of people while I had the floor.

I’m not sure why the speaker chose to say what he did. Maybe he thought he was being cute. Maybe it was just his way of breaking the ice. Maybe it was honestly what he thought and he felt the burning need to say it at that time. Whatever the reason, the effect was that I got properly vex.

Not the comment so much but the whole situation sat on my chest like sour doubles for a couple of hours, until I paid a visit to a friend who is recovering from a serious illness. I hadn’t seen her in a long time, in fact, not since she got out of hospital, and I was frankly scared to visit because I am always unsure what to say in such circumstances. It’s not that I was squeamish so much as I was afraid I’d say something to make her uncomfortable about her illness and her gradual recovery. And when I was there, actually sitting next to her, it was as bad as I had feared.

But visiting her helped me put the earlier comment into perspective. Why should I let one comment ruin my day? There are people facing real problems in this world.

And having left her home, I had a chance to think about my own lack of words to say to her. I guess finding the right thing to say can be very hard sometimes.


The message of the bat (for adult readers only)

Posted: September 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Column, Editorial | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

I got this message from someone who read my blog. My epic struggle with Chester, the bat who terrorised me at home, touched a chord in her and she wanted to share her own bat story with me.

Warning: this post is on a very sensitive subject. It contains graphic language.

She wrote:

“When I was 30 I was raped and attacked by a man (I remain convinced it was the security guard who eyed me for days).  The long and short is that I was strangled for a while – just enough to almost lose consciousness and die.  I still will never know why he released the hold around my neck (I had black and blue imprints of his fingers around my neck for days……) or why in the end he agreed to leave me alone….I did some serious negotiating with him including getting him not to blindfold me as well as wearing a condom – in the darkness he actually let me feel his dick so that I was sure it was on……

“So with all the negotiating and treating him like a person he lost his desire to control me and left me on the bed naked, bruised and terrified….I lost chunks of my hair from the terror…..called the police after I allowed him enough time to leave (that was part of the deal I struck with this man)…….

“Some days later I went to my parents house – the family didn’t have a clue what to do with me…..and in the bedroom there was this bat – after opening up all the windows I hoped and hoped it had left…I went to sleep (was so exhausted)…..and woke up the next morning…..and guess what the bat was dead and ‘asleep’ on the pillow next to mine…..I think it came to teach me about facing my fears and the ugliness of what had happened to me…..I still don’t love bats but I do have a soft spot for them (at a distance……..) – I received a real blessing……and I remain grateful……”

Thanks, friend, for sharing that story. It doesn’t make me feel any more fond of bats but I value your decision to openly talk about that life-changing experience and what it teaches about fear. They say God doesn’t give you more than you can bear but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way at all. I’m glad to know you survived to tell the tale.


Writers are still readers

Posted: September 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Books, Column, Editorial | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Maybe it’s the weather or the time of year, but I’ve had two requests for writing advice in the past two days. Here, once again, is my best advice.

 

When asked what advice I would give to writers, I usually say these two things:

1. WRITE

2. READ.

The first bit of advice sounds so simple but is so hard to do. WRITE. It means making a conscious effort to write, if not every day, on some regular schedule. Turn off the TV, close the MSN chat window, get off Facebook and write. Life is so full of distractions and responsibilities that it’s not uncommon to hear writers complain that they can’t find time to write. I, too, am guilty of doing it. Even though one of the things you’ll find when you Google my name is this post on discipline in writing, lately I’ve been making plenty excuses for not buckling down to the half-finished manuscript I began last year. Granted, the book is depressing as hell and drags me back into a personal memory I’d rather ignore–it’s a novel about possible consequences of child sexual abuse–but I have made a committment and I need to attend to it. Plus, it’s a really good story. 🙂 I think the world, especially Trinidad & Tobago, needs this story so people stop ignoring a problem that is right under their noses.

But writing is hard work in some ways, especially writing fiction. I have no publisher yet so there’s no deadline to whip me, and it’s my own project so there’s no editor to nag me. I started the book with Wayne Brown as my writing coach and he would give me weekly deadlines to meet, but he has since passed away and my subsequent attempt to work with the brilliant writer Monique Roffey flopped because I just couldn’t write at the time.

When I’m writing it’s great. There are times when the words fly onto the computer screen all by themselves, the characters sing and dance and take lovers and licks as if they were real people and I were just a cameraman recording the action. There are other times when each word is a struggle. Because it’s set in multiple times, I have to keep other windows open with calendars and research about clothes, food, news events and other stuff that fill out the story. And you can imagine that I sometimes get distracted by children, housekeeping (VERY RARELY! Ha!), hustling and the rest of my life. Sleep is the biggest culprit, though. Why write when you can sleep? Sleep usually wins, even though I know those last eight chapters won’t write themselves.

Maybe I should do like Mystie Thongs and blog on the struggle to get back on my (literary) feet. If I had written a page a day over the last year when I didn’t write anything at all, the book would be done and in third revision by now!

My only consolation is that at least I’m taking my own advice on the other thing writers should do: READ.

I am, as my Facebook friend Adrian Charles called it, an obligate bibliovore. I have to read, and I’m usually reading at least one book. In the last couple months I’ve read Sun Dog, by Monique Roffey, Falling Angels, by Tracy Chevalier, and Dog-Heart, by Diana McCaulay, among others.

Reading increases your vocabulary, improves your technique and widens your repertoir. I have read hundreds of romance novels and–as much as literary types would turn up their noses at the genre–I owe my relatively good grammar to them, and my vocabulary in part to them, too.

Those long-time Mills & Boon books were great for words like “maelstrom” and “ingenue” and so on, and they were written in the strictest Standard English. I read other things, too… sci-fi, poetry, plays, murder mysteries, text books… and everything I read somehow creeps out into my writing, not in direct ways but you can see threads of them if you know what you’re looking for. Plus, reading is fun!

What do you writers do to keep writing?


The Allen Prize opens!

Posted: September 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | Tags: , , , , , | No Comments »

So after years of planning, praying, hoping and organising, The Allen Prize for Young Writers is finally open!

You can read about it and get submissions forms here.

It has been a long haul and we still have far to go. We are still waiting for funding, and still in the process of planning our inaugural seminar. Two very impressive regional writers have already signed up to talk at the seminar–but you’ll have to wait for the official release to get more info on that.

We have lined up a great head judge of The Allen Prize competition in Judy Raymond. Judy was my editor for many years, at the Trinidad Express and the Trinidad & Tobago Guardian. In a way she has always been my role model, because I remember reading her hysterically funny column with my brother when I was a teenager and she always epitomised for me the best combination of witty, erudite and accessible writing. As an editor she was exacting, sometimes scarily so, and pushed me to being the best journalist I could be. In short, I am well chuffed that she has agreed to head the judges for the prize competition.

This whole experience has been very humbling and I’m grateful to Judy and all the other people who have contributed so far, and those who will contribute in the future. And as Judy said in the press release about the opening of the competition, I can’t wait to read the results!


Terror from the skies…!

Posted: August 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | Tags: , | 2 Comments »

I want to start a Society for the Extinction of Bats.

Yup, you read that right.

Extinction.

As in, “Population: Zero.”

I know everybody is all into conservation and all that. Whoever wants to conserve bats never had a couple of them living in their house.

Well, to be fair to the bats–a big one and a little one; we call the big one Chester, ’cause he’s like a member of the family now, a hated, feared, avoided member of the family–they were here first. My new apartment spent many years as the semi-abandoned unfinished apartment under a family home. The backyard is the forest, so it’s no surprise that all manner of forest creatures, including a colony of fruit bats, made this their digs.

Nevertheless, when construction started up for us to move in, most of the charming previous residents moved out.

All except Chester and his little furry paramour. Chester seems to resent my presence here, I swear. Why else would he be going out of his way to terrorise me at night? Even as I write this I’m ducking and screaming as he zooms around between the kitchen and the bathroom, the two darkest areas of the house.

My ten-year-old daughter reassures me regularly that Chester won’t hurt me. And my friend Gab echoed her in saying, quite rightly, that unless I look like a giant fruit, Chester won’t be interested in biting me. Still. Have you ever come face to face with a small, furry animal hurtling towards you at eight miles an hour? Yeah. It’s like that. No night-time pee-er is safe. I won’t get out of bed for a glass of water anymore. My own kitchen scares me.

The neighbours recommended incense. Annie recommended loud dancehall music. Sharon recommended putting up foil strips. They worked for a while, sorta. Now I think they just piss him off more. There’s bat poop on some of the foil. As if to say, “Here’s what I think of your little traps, Ma’am!” Gab has recommended moth balls. I’m going to get some. And a bat. A baseball bat. One small volley for Chester, a giant relief for Lisa.


Up next…

Posted: August 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | Tags: , , | No Comments »

I can’t believe it’s almost September. It’s been months since I started plotting the rollout of The Allen Prize for Young Writers and incredibly here it is! In September we open the first prize competition, and in October, all things being equal, we stage our first seminar.

We’ve been a busy little beavers for the past few months, trying to put things in place for this. First was the writing of the strategic plan and getting it approved by the board. Then was the drafting of the competition submission guidelines and the seminar and workshop plans, done by the hardworking committees. Then we had to contact the Ministry of Education to get their endorsement. Then we had to write to different international agencies to get them to support the organisation with their money. We had to seek out corporate sponsors, too, and we had to meet with the associations and NGOS who work in literature and youth… it’s an ongoing process.

Now we’re in the process of planning the first seminar and the media launch, and starting the prize competition. Newsflash: We have judges!

I didn’t do all this by myself–madness to even try! My board, prize committee, finance committee, family and friends were all behind The Allen Prize, giving encouragement, advice and very practical support. One friend of mine is doing the Allen Prize web site. Another friend (a couple of friends, actually, and my brother) helps with artwork–artwork that’s going to be placed in a sponsored ad in The Student Press… And on, and on.

As the actual date of the competition and the seminar draws nearer, I hope the support continues. The Allen Prize for Young Writers will not work without it.


Moving house

Posted: August 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Editorial | Tags: , , | 6 Comments »

So the last few weeks of my life–nearly a month, now–have been consumed with moving house.

I lived in Diego Martin for about six years and my rent increased pretty much annually. This year I knew I had to make some changes, because, despite quitting my regular job to take a chance on the NGO I founded, I plan to send my elder daughter off to school in Foreign. Do the maths: less income and more expense. Something had to give and that something turned out to be rent.

My new apartment is still a work in progress. It is a two-bedroom in Petit Valley (in the kind of neighbourhood that had the kind TSTT lady saying, when I called to change my service address, “You sure you want to live there?”) and so far, so good. My younger has school friends in the area and, to be honest, once the DVD player and the computer are working, she’d live in the pit of hell for all she cares. My elder, ditto, except you can substitute flushing toilet for DVD player.

We haven’t fully unpacked yet. The dozens of boxes, bin liners and reusable HiLo bags into which I packed up my life are mostly empty, but since one of things we haven’t got yet is shelving, there are some key items still wrapped up in cardboard and packing tape. The amenities are not what I’m used to, but then I have to remind myself that I grew up sharing a bedroom with two sisters, my mother and my brother, without indoor plumbing or a TV for most of my childhood. It’s all relative. You’d be amazed at what  you can get used to, either way.

As I wait for the completion of our apartment, grimy from concrete dust and ducking the damned bat that refuses to understand that humans live here now, I count my blessings. Health, happiness, a life mission, good friends and a lot of family support are not all I have. I also have a roof over my head–even if I do have to share it with the bat for now.